Makoto Fujimura gave the commencement address at my alma mater, Messiah College, this year. Here began with the following story:
A girl in northern Iraq ran toward a bunker with her father. A Japanese photographer was capturing this unfolding drama on the front lines of the war, and he followed the girl with his camera until she was safely behind the bunker. But as he put his camera down, he noticed a look of horror on her face.
She realized that as she was running away from the bullets, she had stepped on a flower.
Before anyone could say or do anything to stop her, she let go of her father’s hand, and she ran back to the flower, knelt down, and she tried, in vain, to restore the flower by holding it up in her little hands.
As she tried to resurrect beauty, a cruel stray bullet pieced her body.
She fell, crumpling on top of the flower.
He goes on to ask the question: Would we give our lives for beauty?
If the story and question piqued your interest at all, I suggest reading the whole commencement address, as I don’t feel I can really summarize it.
The initial story made me pause, then I read it again, and again. It’s sad, but there’s something beautiful about the idea of trying to restore a flower, and it’s poetic to die trying, though there’s no rational way the tradeoff is worth it. But, as Fujimura says, there is something genuine in pursuing beauty in a world of violence and discord. He says so much more though.
“This girl, by turning back toward the path of danger, rather than running into safety, graduated. She graduated from the horror-stricken world full of bullet holes. She graduated toward beauty and sacrifice.”
“Thus, through the bullet holes, through the wounds of our ‘Ground Zero’ conditions, God chooses to shine his light. The wounds represents not just our Fallen conditions, but the possibility toward the Generative.”
It’s the questions that make me think. Will beauty save the world? Would I give my life for beauty? God created the world and said it was good, a word that in other verses is translated as beautiful. God died for his fallen created people and restored them, but died in the process (then rose in glory).
I wouldn’t have valued a fallen flower. I was raised in a land of rain, not desert. I doubt I’d even notice. Sometimes I notice things, many times I don’t, and I don’t know what I’d think if bullets were shot at me. I recognize what I think is beautiful, but there is much I miss. There is so much beauty I don’t take the time to see, so much beauty I don’t know is beautiful. It was an Amish man in the city by the name of Freeman Miller who once told a class I was in that he came to love cities because they were full of God’s most beautiful creation: people.
I’m not sure what Dostoevsky meant by “Beauty will save the world.” But I really like that he said it.